Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Crude Empire: British Oil Imperialism and the Making of the Modern Middle East (c.1901–1935)

About the project

Crude Empire is a Newton International Fellowship project, funded by the British Academy and led by Dr Guillemette Crouzet. The foundations for this project were laid in 2014-2016 during a one-year Max Weber Fellowship at the European University Institute in Florence and thanks to a research grant awarded by the Centre for History and Economics at the University of Cambridge and Harvard University. The international conference “Oil Imperialism. Energy and Political Power from a global perspective” organised at the Sorbonne in November 2016 and involving leading specialists of energy history and international relations was a milestone in development of this project. This project is based on the exceptional documentation on British oil venture held in the British Petroleum Archives (BP), located on Warwick campus.


Oil was a central new project for the British Empire in the early twentieth century, but to date no dedicated study exists of the links between oil and the British empire, and the resulting regime of “oil imperialism”. This project, in responding to this historiographical challenge, recasts British involvement in the Middle East by placing oil — its exploration, extraction, and the geopolitical implications of this — at the centre of analysis.

This project seeks to explore how oil enabled the development of a new form of British coercive interventionism, which I term “oil imperialism”. It argues that oil competition fostered new bids for domination over space and people in the early twentieth-century Middle East, and how this was a key element in a refashioned British imperialism. At this juncture, oil products became militarily and industrially vital for imperial states. Desire for oil concessions made the Middle East a new site of interventionism, with specific focus on its previously-ignored hinterlands (i.e. desert areas, swamplands like the Shatt-al-Arab, and mountainous regions like the Zagros of Persia). New means of coercion over people and space were framed, paradoxically at a time when “humanitarianism” and “mandate ideology” became discursively important.

Via a series of case studies, this project will analyse the social and environmental consequences of this new political economy of oil in the British Empire. This research aims to result in a monograph on the political economy of oil of the British Empire in the Middle East during the interwar period and the spatial creation and production of the British “Crude Empire”.

Selected publications


2015 Genèses du Moyen-Orient: le Golfe Persique à l’âge des impérialismes (c.1800–c.1914) / [The Birth of the Middle East. The Persian Gulf in the Age of Imperialism (c.1800–c.1914)] (Ceyzerieux: Champ Vallon, 2015), 670 pp. With a foreword by Prof. Christopher A. Bayly.

In December 2016, this book was the winner of the Sophie Barluet Book Prize awarded by the French “Centre National du Livre”.

Articles, since 2016

2016 “Un Fachoda en mer d’oman a la veille de l’entente cordiale? L’affaire du dépôt de charbon (1898– 1899)”, Relations Internationales, 166:2 (2016), pp. 53–68.

2016 “Les Britanniques et l’invention du Moyen-Orient: essai sur des géographies plurielles”, Esprit, 424, (May 2016), pp. 31–46.